How to be Rich and Still be a Christian Luke 12:13-34
1.1 It subverts the demand for self denial.
1.2 It reduces God to a means to an end.
1.3 Prosperity teaching is this worldly.
2. The Poverty Gospel
3. The Lord's Gospel
3.1 The Fool's Dilemma (12:16-17)
3.2 The Fool's Decision (12:18-19)
3.3 The Fool's Destiny (12:20-21)
Rich in Thankfulness (12:22-24)
Rich in Simplicity (12:27-28)
Rich in Generosity (12:31-34)
There was once a Baptist preacher who found himself seated on a train next to Mahatma Gandhi. As they travelled together, the preacher did his best to tell Gandhi about the gospel and to win him over to Christianity. As the journey came to an end, the preacher asked Gandhi if he was ready to accept Jesus as his personal Saviour. "Jesus!" exclaimed Gandhi with a pretended look of surprise. "I didn't realise you were talking about Jesus. I thought you were talking about some successful oil tycoon from Texas." Like Campolo I cringed when I heard that story.
How do we follow Jesus without embarrassing God? That's our subject these Sunday evenings. Tonight we come to the subject "How to be Rich and still be a Christian." Now I don't want to assume anything this evening, and it may be that you don't necessarily share that assumption. Perhaps you seriously doubt that it is possible to be rich and a Christian. Maybe you are currently on a guilt trip - really a schizophrenic trying to be a good Christian but enjoying your life style too much.
So lets take a step back and consider the alternative options. Some Christians believe wealth is a sign or God's blessing and poverty a curse, a sign of unbelief or sin. Some Christians on the other hand believe poverty is mandatory, intrinsic to the gospel and that therefore wealth is a sign of moral corruption and compromise with the world. I guess we would all place ourselves somewhere in between these positions - tempted to get defensive about our life style but keen to do God's will. If we start from the premise that the Bible is God's word and that He has made his will plain on this matter, lets measure up these positions one at a time.
1. The Prosperity
Those who believe it is God's will that we be prosperous subscribe to one or more versions of the Prosperity Gospel. There are plenty of examples in the Old Testament of individuals who were blessed by God and prospered materially. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job - these are just a few examples. The Lord promises Joshua for example, "Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you... then you will be prosperous and successful" (Joshua 1:7-8).
Denis Haack in "The Success Factor" describes a TV preacher declare as he pointed to his diamond rings and new Cadillac, that the difference between him and us is that "I have Cadillac faith and you have Volkswagen faith." Haack continues, "By the end of his message I was led to believe that to own anything lass than the most expensive was not only an indication of anaemic faith, but a slap at the dignity and generosity of the God of Abraham. And Abraham happened to be, by the way, a very wealthy man." So what's so wrong with all this? Prosperity teaching undermines the cross of Jesus in three ways:
1.1 It subverts the demand of the cross for self denial. Jesus commands, "Who ever is not willing to take up his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27) And by the way Jesus wasn't taking about a Calvin Klein gold cross with diamond studded nail heads.
1.2 It reduces God to a means to an end. God becomes the means whereby the end of prosperity is attained. He becomes the source from which prosperity flows, rather than the sovereign to whom prosperity in this life is sacrificed. Faith becomes a technique or key that unlocks guaranteed wealth. Belief in Jesus Christ is irrelevant (Hagin).
1.3 Prosperity teaching is focussed on the things of this world. Material possessions are seen as a sign of God's approval and the means of God's blessing. The demand of Jesus to leave this world behind and take up the cross is blunted if not silenced. The prosperity gospel has accommodated itself to the affluent western world and since poverty must be a curse or due to lack of faith, it is deaf to the cries of the poor. If you need more evidence, check out our church web site or borrow one of these videos and inoculate yourself against these charlatans.If the prosperity gospel is a heresy for idolising wealth, lets consider the poverty gospel instead.
2. The Poverty
The poverty gospel also appears to have a biblical basis. "Looking at his disciples, Jesus said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."" (Luke 6:20) "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:33-34)
What could be plainer? If we take the bible seriously, it is clear God is the God of the poor. Jesus was poor and his disciples are called to follow him. If we really submit to Christ's lordship we will suffer as he did. How can we possibly indulge in the good things in life when we live in a world that is full of suffering and starvation? If we are still wealthy it means we are not sharing equitably the earth's dwindling resources. I have to say this was the understanding of the gospel I received as a student. I had worked for a couple of years before going to university. I had saved a bit not really knowing why. I had quite a nice collection of LP's many of which had less than edifying lyrics. In my desire to be 100% devoted to Jesus I gave my savings to the charities and after a word from the Lord from another Christian, my record collection too. On the face of it living a simple lifestyle, joining a monastic order or commune and taking the vow of poverty has its attractions. No worries about fitting locks or taking out insurance policies. Give up the car and walk. Its much healthier. With anxieties over the uncertain effect of the millennium bug many are taking to the hills. It has its attractions. I am not saying it is wrong to live this way but is it necessarily intrinsic to the Gospel? Jesus did say "How hard for the rich man to enter the kingdom" (Matthew 19:23) but did he really say it was impossible? Did not the disciples aspire to the poverty gospel when the woman poured expensive ointment on Jesus feet? "When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. "This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor." (Matthew 26:8-9).
If the prosperity Gospel turns God into a capitalist, the poverty gospel is in danger of turning God into a Marxist. Here lies the clue to the weakness of both positions. Both tends to measure people and their spirituality by their lifestyle or possessions. Material or cultural norms, usually our own, are used to exclude others who don't fit our theology or lifestyle. The prosperity Gospel and the poverty Gospel. Is there an alternative? Yes there is. Wealth is neither intrinsic nor incongruous to the gospel. Lets turn back to Luke 12:13-34.
3. The Lord's
The context for this story about a rich fool is prompted by a man in the crowd who interrupted Jesus and asked Him to solve a family problem. Rabbis were expected to help settle legal matters, but Jesus refused to get involved. Why? Because He knew that no answer He gave would solve the real problem, which was covetousness in the hearts of the two brothers. (The "you" in Luke 12:14 is plural.) As long as both men were greedy, no settlement would be satisfactory. Their greatest need was to have their hearts changed. Like too many people today, they wanted Jesus to serve them but not to save them. Jesus told this parable to reveal the dangers that lurk in a covetous heart. As you read it, test your own responses to this farmer's various experiences.
3.1 The Fool's
"The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' How do you respond to the wealthy farmer's dilemma?
Here was a man who had a problem with too much wealth! You may be thinking - I wish I had that kind of problem. If you inherited a fortune this week, you would no doubt ask the same question as this man, "What shall I do?" It was a good question to ask. What made him a fool was the way he answered it. There are perils to prosperity (Prov. 30:7-9). Wealth can choke the Word of God as we saw in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:22). The list of verses in your news sheet shows how wealth can create snares and temptations (1 Tim. 6:6-10, 17-19). It can give you a false sense of security. "And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy;" Isn't that the motivation behind many a pension plan or saving scheme? People say that money does not satisfy, but it does satisfy if you want to live on that level. People who are satisfied only with the things that money can buy are in great danger of losing the things that money cannot buy. The Fool's Dilemma.
3.2 The Fool's
'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' How do you respond to the decisions of the rich man? Are you saying, "Now that is shrewd business! Save and have it ready for the future!"
But Jesus saw selfishness in all that this man did. Eleven times he uses the personal pronoun. The world's philosophy is "Take care of Number One!" But Jesus does not endorse that philosophy. There is certainly nothing wrong with following good business principles, or even with saving for the future (1 Tim. 5:8). Jesus does not encourage waste (John 6:12). But neither does He encourage selfishness motivated by covetousness. The Fool's Dilemma, the Fool's Decision.
3.3 The Fool's
But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." How do you respond to the death of the boastful farmer?
We are prone to say, "Too bad this fellow died just when he had everything going for him! How tragic that he could not finish his great plans." But the greatest tragedy is not what the man left behind but what lay before him: eternity without God! The man lived without God and died without God, and his wealth was but an incident in his life. God is not impressed with our money. We cannot buy our way into heaven like the Olympics. Wealth cannot keep us alive when our time comes to die, nor can it buy back the opportunities we missed while we were thinking of ourselves and ignoring God and others. What then is the right approach to wealth and possessions? Jesus said, "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." As we close lets think for a few moments about being "rich toward God"
Rich in Thankfulness
"Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes... consider the ravens... God feeds them"
The fundamental error this fool made was to think his possessions were his own, that this exceptional crop was the result of his own hard work and all that mattered. If we would have a proper attitude to possessions then we must first acknowledge like the birds that all things come from God. We are grateful stewards of God's good creation.
Rich in Simplicity
"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith.." The fools motive was "more is better". Jesus says learn to live simply so that others can simply live. Forget this years Spring collections. They cannot match the beauty of God's creation and that includes you. Rich in thankfulness, rich in simplicity.
Rich in Generosity
"But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well... Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Wealth can be enjoyed and employed at the same time if our priority is to seek His kingdom above all else and our purpose is to honour God (1 Tim. 6:10ff). Yes, but how generous? I can't tell you. Check out our Planned Giving Leaflet for some biblical principles on giving. Remember that the poorest unemployed person living on State benefits in Virginia Water is hopelessly and utterly rich by the world's standards. There is an irreducible minimum beyond which it is impossible to live in our community. Both wealth and generosity is relative, depending on where you draw the base line. That's why I find Ron Sider's In "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger", a helpful way of working out in our own hearts how to be generous. He calls it "Proportional Tithing" (page 153 - see OHP). At one level its all too easy to give away our possessions for with them go our responsibility. Its much harder to hold some of them in trust as good stewards, awaiting our Master's orders as to how he would have us invest them in his service. Rich in thankfulness, rich in simplicity, rich in generosity. This is how it is possible to be rich and a Christian. Indeed its the only way. Lets pray.